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Geek Squad Founder Wants to See More Inspired and Creative Leaders

Published: 2016-02-22

Certainly, Robert Stephens had no idea he was creating Geek Squad when he was riding his mountain bike around the University of Minnesota campus helping students and staff overcome their IT woes, many of which he admits today were a lot easier to fix than he ever told the desperate customer.

Stephens took inspiration from Willy Wonka, Batman and Ramen noodles in building what has become the preeminent IT repair service, eventually partnering with Best Buy and launching a fleet of Volkswagen Beetles.

Willy Wonka, says Stephens, can serve as a model for succession planning, marketing and many other business practices that elude owners today, Batman’s car showed “the only way to get attention is to stand out” and Ramen noodles remain “the international symbol for struggle.”

“Having no money forced me to stand out and to be efficient,” says Stephens, one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 PSNI Supersummit in Austin, Texas. “I knew when I started there was no money in hardware so I decided to focus on service. When you have no money for marketing, everything you do is marketing.”

Stephens has never been afraid of having fun, even before he became successful. These days, the Geek Squad fields more than 120 million phone calls per year.

“Humor is a very subtle way to project confidence,” he says. “The customer needs to be reassured everything is going to be OK. In our business, anyone can become a customer. I was the IT department for every company in America under 100 employees. I never thought I’d be working for companies like 3M.”

Stephens wonders why big companies tend to separate themselves from their customers rather than continuing to embrace them.

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“Shouldn’t a company be more personal as it grows,” he asks. “What’s the point of growing if it means you become less personal? Why can’t we scale creativity? Why do things have to be so soul-crushing the bigger they get?

“Don’t miss out on the chance to have fun while giving off a very serious message about company values. You can’t train or teach creativity, ethics and drive,” says Stephens.

Although Geek Squad has been lauded as a revolutionary idea, Stephens is humble about his success.

“Every problem you run into is something that’s already been solved by someone somewhere,” he says. “The key is to steal from the right places.”

Stephens wants to see big companies continue to innovate rather than trying to mimic the success that made them household names.

“You can stay creative and interesting, but still stay scalable,” he says. Geek Squad’s uniforms, he says, were inspired by NASA, an organization he sees as focused on teamwork and doing things together.

Stephens says there’s nothing wrong with using your customers as advertising, noting he was able to make Geek Squad the official computer support of the Rolling Stones simply by asking Mick Jagger—and helping him deal with his own computer woes. Geek Squaders now tour with the Stones, he says.

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“All human progress is about friction,” says Stephens. “People didn’t used to challenge the experts but now they can and do. It’s not enough to automate; the future is in anticipation.”

Stephens is a big believer in conversational commerce, in which potential customers ask “can you do it?” “when can you do it?” and “how much will it cost?”

He would like to see more company leaders focusing on being great, not only boosting their bottom lines.

“Nobody wants to work for uninspired leadership,” he says. “They want to be part of a unified mission. People want to feel like their work has a sense of purpose. If one person doesn’t follow the process, it’s the person who’s the problem. If more than one person doesn’t follow the process, it’s probably the process.”

Posted in: News

Tagged with: PSNI

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